By the time you read this column, many of you will be well into the playoff portion of your fantasy hockey campaign. Pickings are slim on the waiver wire and trades are no longer an option. The time to make any major alterations to your lineup have come and gone, so the squad you are staring at today is the one that must lead you to the finish line. Playing the correct skaters in the proper matchups is crucial at this pivotal time of the season. Make sure you trot out your best possible combination of skill and grit so as to not be eliminated from contention early. There is plenty of action this week, so don’t be shy about tinkering with your lineup.
Wednesday: Chicago @ Tampa Bay
The Chicago Blackhawks continue to storm towards the playoffs and a large portion of the credit for that success must go directly to Patrick Sharp. Sharp’s 33 goals are good for third in the entire league and are six better than any one else on the team. He has been able to find a nice balance on the season as well, with 28 assists to his credit. Sharp is well on his way to eclipsing career highs in almost every offensive category and can be counted on heavily down the stretch. Sharp’s line-mate Jonathan Toews has also had a large hand in this windy city success story as well. His 65 points lead the team by a healthy margin and he has developed a great knack for setting his teammates up in situations where they can thrive. These two are key to any playoff hopes. Tampa Bay has been a pleasant surprise all season long and is starting to get contributions where they least expected them. Teddy Purcell has been an incredible development for the Lightning in his first full season with the team. After coming over in a trade last season from the Kings, no one in the Tampa Bay organization knew what to expect from the kid but its safe to say they are now backing him hard. Purcell has already amassed 42 points on the season and is showing no signs of slowing down. The Bolts will need him to continue this pace and shoulder some of the scoring load if they intend to advance deep into the playoffs. Steve Downie continues to get under the skin of opposing players and rack up healthy amounts of penalty minutes while also finding the score sheet now and again. His penalty numbers alone make him a worthwhile fantasy hockey play.
Friday: New Jersey @ Atlanta
The New Jersey Devils have risen from the dead and are starting to scare some teams in the Eastern Conference. The Devils are climbing their way back into the playoff race and thanks in large part should be given to Ilya Kovalchuk. The Russian sniper is finally living up to his massive contract and bringing points and wins to the ice and your fantasy hockey team. He has found the back of the net in each of his last three games and has scored at least one point in 16 of his last 17 contests. Its no shock that the Devils are starting to turn it around with their star putting up gaudy numbers like that. Martin Brodeur has won each of his last four starts and hasn’t given up more than two goals in that time span. With Brodeur back to playing at the Vezina Trophy level we are all accustomed to seeing, the Devils are a very scary team going forward. The Atlanta Thrashers also find themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and they owe much of that success to Andrew Ladd. Ladd has an even 25 goals and 25 assists on the season and leads all Thrasher forwards in points by a wide margin. After coming over in an off-season trade with Chicago, Ladd has really cemented himself as an asset the Thrashers can build around for years to come. Tobias Enstrom has also been a force since returning from injury a few weeks back. He has seven points in his last 10 games and ranks third in points amongst all NHL defensemen. You can start both these skaters with confidence going forward.